By Cody Boteler
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
County Councilman David Marks has again asked to delay a vote on a proposal that would require developers to pay a larger fee than what is currently required if new development projects do not contain sufficient open space.
His bill would raise the fee by about 1300 percent, Marks said. Currently, developers pay just over $100,000 in fees for an open space waiver.
“Developers shouldn’t get a blank check to build in Towson,” Marks said.
Marks is a self-described moderate Republican from Perry Hall who leans “a bit left” when it comes to issues of development and environmental protection.
Marks said that he delayed the vote because there are negotiations between Caves Valley Partners, the development company behind the Towson Row project, and the community that are at “a sensitive point.”
Twenty percent of the money collected from the fees goes to an organization called NeighborSpace, a group that was formed in 2002 to advocate for and create more open space in the urbanized area of Baltimore County, according to the group’s website.
Under Marks’ proposal, NeighborSpace would still receive 20 percent of the fee. The other collected money would be used for county projects like a small park in East Towson and an expansion of the park at Towson Manor Village, Marks said.
Barbara Hopkins, the executive director of NeighborSpace, said that her group supported the bill, but would like to see more comprehensive action for the entire county, not just in Towson.
The Baltimore County standard for open space is 1,000 square feet per residential dwelling within what’s called the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line.
The URDL was established in 1967 to regulate what kind of development was allowed in different parts of the county, according to a May 2010 “Smart Growth Successes” document from the Maryland Department of Planning.
According to NeighborSpace, however, 63 percent of residences within the URDL have “insufficient access” to open space.
The Greater Towson Council of Community Associations has repeatedly expressed that it would like to see more open space in Towson.
Many communities within the URDL and Towson specifically have been rated with low walkability scores by NeighborSpace.
“Almost every community inside the URDL has need for some open space,” Hopkins said.
Low walkability in a neighborhood means an increased reliance on cars – creating both traffic congestion and environmental pollution.
“If you can’t walk around, and you have to use your car to go everywhere, there is a lot that shows that correlating to higher rates of diabetes and obesity,” Hopkins said.
Nancy Hafford, the executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, said that it wouldn’t be fair to put the entire burden of funding open space on businesses.
“You can’t put everything on the back of businesses, you just can’t,” Hafford said. “One thing I’d really like [the community] to take a look at is the fact that [new developments] are going to be increasing the tax base.”
Since 2002, NeighborSpace has secured 14 properties and over 80 acres of open space in the urban part of Baltimore County through donations and funds collected from the open space waiver fees.
NeighborSpace’s most recent acquisition was a donated 18 acres of wooded area at 1300 Dulaney Valley Road in Towson in March 2015.
It is the only property covered by NeighborSpace with “limited public access,” according to the website. All of the other properties have full public access.